This year we all learned how much we take football for granted. From August to May, every year without fail, our weekends are devoted to it. While the 2019/20 season was gearing up to its climax, to suddenly have that routine swept from under us was a serious blow to normal life. It was devastating that everyone’s favourite pastime was taken away so suddenly, and with no promise of it returning any time soon.
Looking to the long term however – there are multiple positive lessons to be drawn from this. Whenever they do let us back into football stadiums, we will covet the normal matchday experiences and never again will we not treasure every minute of it.
Tuesday 10th March was an important day, and although none of us knew it at the time, it would be the last round of football league fixtures in the 2019/20 season. It did not seem different to any other matchday in my experience. Racing home from work to get ready to make the journey up to Blackpool from Birkenhead. Not too long a journey. A few beers huddled in the back of a bus with friends, take in a pub along the front, and a football match under the floodlights – lovely, what could be better? Had we known this would be our last opportunity to see our beloved team play, not only for the rest of the season but potentially the rest of the calendar year – I imagine we would have stopped a few times to take everything in around us. That unmatchable away day feeling.
It had been an underwhelming season, having once again racked up hundreds of miles following our team across the country only to be rewarded with lacklustre performances and very few highlights. That Tuesday evening in Blackpool made it three wins in a row for Tranmere, providing us with all the hope in the world that we would eventually haul ourselves out of relegation contention – that game became an instant season highlight. Having gathered all the momentum we could ever dream of, there was a sense of genuine excitement and belief in the stands following the 1-2 win.
In many ways, that evening encapsulated a lot of what we love so much about following our football clubs. For those few hours on a cold weeknight, supporters had left behind all the stresses of work and general life to have a genuinely good time with their mates. It gave us all an excuse to get away from home and spend an evening in another town having a laugh and a few drinks. Few things in life give you as strong a sense of community and pride as supporting a football team home and away, a feeling that is impossible to imitate anywhere else. Going to another clubs ground, while there is always the hostility of being in enemy territory, is incredible in itself. You get an insight into how the cult of rival supporters live out their football life, so completely different from your own, and yet exactly the same.
The EFL recently confirmed football would return on 12th September, behind closed doors initially, with fans allowed back from the start of October. Although, it is likely to be massively reduced stadium capacities, in order to maintain social distancing. With any luck, things will be back to normal by the end of the year. The end is finally in sight.
When football does come back to us, there are so many things to look forward to. We owe it to ourselves to enjoy it as best we can. If your favourite thing about the whole match day experience is moaning, then you go and you make the most of that moan, God knows you have waited long enough for it. If the thing you have missed most is jeering goalkeepers taking goal kicks, then make it the loudest “you’re **** ah” you can muster. It matters not why you go, just that you go. An enormous part of our lives has been missing for some time now, and to be given a definite time frame on its return is almost overwhelmingly exciting. The countdown has well and truly begun.
It is likely going to be a strange experience at first with reduced capacity and distancing measures in place. We will not lose faith, however, someday soon Saturdays will be back to the way we covet their memory. We can bank on that. And what a day that will be, a sure boost to the passion and intensity of crowds and atmosphere no matter where you watch your football.
It will be magical. We will never forget this year; it has been a tough one. We must learn from it. I personally believe the lifestyle that is following your football club will only benefit from this, it becomes just that bit more special now we know what life is like without it. So, go out, buy your season ticket, mark your calendars, get ready to go through heartbreak, pain, and unbridled joy once more. Football is nearly back.